Orange-bellied Parrot

Orange-bellied Parrot
Neophema chrysogaster
Kingdom: Animalia
Phylum: Chordata
Class: Aves
Order: Psittaciformes
Family: Psittacidae
World: Critically endangered (IUCN)
Australia:   Critically endangered (EPBC Act 1999)
Victoria: Critically endangered
FFG: Action Statement No. 43 (pdf)
Species profiles
Australia:  Atlas of Living Australia profile
EPBC Act: SPRAT species profile
Zoos Victoria Zoos Victoria
Figthing Extinction profile
Orange-bellied Parrot Photo: Bob McPherson
Orange-bellied Parrot. Photo: Bob McPherson

The Orange-bellied Parrot is one of six species in the genus Neophema. It is a medium sized parrot approximately 20cm in length, for comparison being slightly larger than a budgie.  In common with other Neophema it is predominantly green above, yellow underneath with blue markings on the leading edge of wings. Distinctive features include; a bright grass green colour above, an orange patch between the legs on the underside of the male and a broad two tone blue frontal band extending between the eyes above the bill. The orange patch between the legs is bright in the male, paler and less extensive in the female and mostly non-existent in juveniles. 

The Blue-winged Parrot and the Elegant Parrot range overlap with the Orange-bellied Parrot range in South West Victoria. Both have similar blue wing and frontal band markings as the Orange-bellied Parrot which can sometimes lead to miss-identification, although neither have the same bright grass green colour as the Orange-bellied Parrot.  In addition, the Orange-bellied Parrot has a distinctive call when alarmed, described as a sharp chitter-chitter and repeated so fast as to resemble a buzz-buzz call.

The Orange-bellied Parrot population has suffered a dramatic decline in recent years. In 2007 the wild population was estimated at 200 birds, by 2010 the population could have been as low as 50 birds in the wild. At the end of the 2013/14 breeding season the wild population of Orange-bellied Parrots was  considered to be approximately 70 birds although 24 of the overall population were captive bred birds released into the wild. Between 2014 and 2016 the wild population remained around 70 birds with supplementation from captive  breeding releases. In 2017 the wild population completing its migratory cycle could have been as low as 17 birds.

It is now considered the Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) is at serious risk of functional extinction in the wild (OBP Recovery Team 2016).



Distribution of Orange-bellied Parrot records in Victoria.  Source: DELWP 2021diversity Atlas, July 2014.
Distribution of all known historic Orange-bellied Parrot records in Victoria. Source: DELWP, Victorian Biodiversity Atlas, February 2021.


Orange-bellied Parrot records between 2000 to 2020 Source: VBB
Distribution of all known Orange-bellied Parrot records in Victoria between 2000 to 2020 Source: VBB 2020.


Ecology & Habitat

Orange-bellied Parrot feeding on Sarcocornia quinqueflora. Photo Bob McPherson.
Orange-bellied Parrot feeding on Sarcocornia
quinqueflora. Photo Bob McPherson.


Orange-bellied Parrot habitat is associated with coastal vegetation in south west Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia. 

During the overwintering season Orange-bellied Parrots feed on a variety of seeds and fruits of grasses and salt marsh plants, several genera are recognised as being important food species, ie; Sarcocornia, Halosarcia, Sclerostegia - (glassworts),Chenopodium (goosefoot), Atriplex (saltbushes), Frankenia (sea-heath), Suaeda (seablight).

Summer habitat comprises the coastal ‘button grass’ plains in Tasmania’s South West Wilderness World Heritage Area. Breeding also occurs in this area during summer, which is assisted by provision of artificial nest boxes and where juveniles are banded.

Northward migration of adult birds across Bass Strait commences in February with juveniles following in March-April. By late March Orange-bellied Parrots have arrived in Victoria where they overwinter and disperse along Victoria’s coastline and into South Australia before commencing their return back to Tasmania by November.

There are several key sites within Victoria’s South West which provide suitable overwintering habitat for about 70% of the entire population. These sites include the saltmarshes on the western shore of Port Phillip Bay (Murtcaim Wildlife reserve/ Point Wilson area, Swan Bay and Swan Island), Lake Connewarre on the Bellarine Peninsula and the Yambuck wetlands west of Warrnambool. The Yambuck wetlands have been recognised as a significant site since 1999 when up to 18 Orange-bellied Parrots were recorded utilising the area. This area is now recognised as the most significant site for Orange-bellied Parrots in the far South West.

Orange-bellied Parrots feeding near Tower Hill, Warrnambool during 2016 mainland overwintering.  Footage courtesy Bob McPherson.


Although much of the summer habitat is secure in conservation reserves threats to migratory habitat and threats along migratory corridors across Bass Strait Islands requires on-going monitoring and response to development proposals. Wintering habitat consists of conservation reserves, Crown Land and private property that has been fragmented and degraded in many areas. Threats to salt marsh habitat (primary feeding areas) include; excessive stock grazing, grazing by rabbits, altered hydrology, dieback, weed invasion and physical damage. Due to the limited area of remnant wintering habitat available it is important to ensure these areas are managed in a way that does not result in further deterioration of habitat quality.

Housing developments either on or in close proximity to salt marsh habitats has the potential to displace birds through loss of habitat, increased disturbance and increased predators (eg. domestic/feral cats). Major infrastructure such as wind farms that are inappropriately sited along flight lines between feeding and migrating areas poses a direct threat to Orange-bellied Parrots.

There has been a marked decline in the number of individuals counted during coordinated winter surveys on mainland Australia from 70-90 individuals in the 1980s (with a peak of 122 in 1983) to fewer than 20 in each year since 2001 and fewer than 10 in the last 5 years (White et al. 2016).

A report titled 'Orange-bellied Parrot: A retrospective analysis of winter habitat availability, 1985-2015' concluded that most of the gross habitat loss occurred well before 1983 and that since that time mainland winter habitat is unlikely to have declined significantly in a structural or compositional sense to explain the decline in Orange-bellied Parrot population (White et al. 2016).

The population decline is thought to be associated with issues relating to small populations – genetic erosion, inbreeding depression, poor reproduction rate, disease and loss of knowledge between generations about migration routes and the location of suitable habitat patches.


Conservation & Management

A number of management actions have been progressing since the formation of a co-ordinating committee in 1983, although some activities such as winter surveys have been carried out since 1978. The captive breeding of Orange-bellied Parrots commenced in 1981 and with refinement, this program has made a valuable contribution to the wild population and is an accepted component of the overall recovery for this species.

The Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team now oversees the Orange-bellied Parrot recovery program. This team comprises 30 members representing 23 government and non-government organisations (State Government representatives from Tasmania, Victoria and South Australia, Commonwealth, non-government organisations such as WWF, BirdLife Australia, Zoological boards and specialists. Of course, volunteers and specialist bird observers play an integral part in the recovery of this species. Within the broader recovery group there are more specific working groups such as; the Victorian Working Group which focuses on overwintering issues, the Captive Management Group and the Tasmanian operations group.

Volunteers contribute significantly to the conservation actions of the OBP Recovery Program, including collecting data on the species in the breeding and non-breeding locations, assisting in the care of the OBP captive population, contributing to public awareness and raising funds for recovery actions.

The actions of the OBP Recovery Team are funded by the organisations within the partnership as well as through government and non-government grants, fund-raising activities, and individual and corporate donations.

Zoos Victoria – Fighting Extinction. Act Wild for Orange-bellied Parrots, April 2012.

Management focus for 2017 /18

Because the survival of this species is in such a perilous state the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team is introducing some new management techniques.

Summary of proposed management (OBP Recovery Team 2016)

Survival and reproductive success of wild birds - maximise adult survival and reproductive success, so as many wild born birds as possible are able to migrate naturally this autumn. 

Assisted / aided migration trial of captive bred birds - males transported and released into suitable wild habitat in Victoria for overwintering. Females transported to a captive institution on the mainland for ‘ranching/holding’ before re-release at Melaleuca next breeding season. The Recovery Team hopes that aiding migration and ranching/holding will improve winter survival and migration success (for the assisted/aided migration group) of these birds. 

Release of 10 or more juvenile captive bred birds -these will be released at breeding grounds  in Tasmania during late summer 2017

Release of ten or more adult captive bred males - these releases will be at a mainland overwintering site/s.

Release of captive-bred adults at Melaleuca in spring 2017 - this is part of on-going management to balance the sex ratio and increase breeding potential.

Key actions in Victoria

The following are specific actions identified for Victorian managers of this species.

  • Protect and enhance habitat on areas adjacent to or near areas of currently-utilised habitat.
  • Continue to search for colour-banded birds and pass on all details to the recovery coordinator.
  • Publicise the need to accurately record band details amongst the bird-watching community.
  • Provide interpretative displays to the Queenscliff Golf Club to educate golfers and visitors to Swan Island about the need to keep out of saltmarsh adjacent to the fairways at Swan Island.
  • Organise the annual winter population counts - in May, July and September - using voluntary bird observers.
  • Advise landholders how to enhance habitat on their properties through the Land for Wildlife Scheme and other means.
  • Provide incentives to restore habitat where appropriate.
  • Conduct surveys of potential suitable habitat to find any new areas utilised by parrots.
  • Protect, expand and enhance habitat on known feeding sites.
Key areas for habitat conservation by Local Government Area

Although Local Government may or may not be directly involved with on-ground management, land use planning in these localities should take account of the need to protect Orange-bellied habitat.

  • Moyne Shire -  Belfast Lough - Port Fairy,  Killarney Coast, Yambuk Lakes.
  • Warrnambool City - Lower Merri Wetlands.
  • Surf Coast Shire - Breamlea Flora & Fauna Reserve.
  • City of Greater Geelong - Lake Conewarre, Swan Bay - Edwards Point Wildlife Reserve, The Spit Wildlife Reserve.
  • Queenscliffe Bprough - Swan Island.
  • Wyndham City -  Western Treatment Plant managed by Melbourne Water.
  • South Gippsland Shire - Corner Inlet - Saltmarsh Islands,  Wilsons Promontory National Park managed by Parks Victoria

Summary of conservation efforts

  1. 2010 summary
  2. 2011 summary
  3. 2011 / 2012 summary
  4. 2012 /2013 summary
  5. 2013 / 2014 summary
  6. 2015/16 summary
  7. 2017 summary
  8. 2018 summary
  9. 2019 summary
  10. 2020 summary
  11. 2021 summary
2010 summary

A summary update from information provided by Rachel Sims, Biodiversity Officer, Biodiversity Services South West, DSE and member of the OBP Recovery Team.

The elusive and critically endangered Orange-bellied Parrot is in serious danger of extinction in the wild. Monitoring by volunteers and researchers at key sites indicates that there are now only about 50 wild Orange-bellied Parrots remaining, and that the species is likely to go extinct in the wild in the next three to five years. There is a captive population of around 160 birds; however the genetic variation (gene pool) of these birds is likely to be too small for long-term survival of a healthy captive population.

The recovery effort is now focusing on actions to try and preserve options for a future wild population for OBPs. Key activities include:

  1. Improving genetic diversity of the captive breeding population by bringing in some new birds from the wild. Two juveniles captured in Tasmania in March 2010 are now at Healesville Sanctuary, ready to participate in the upcoming breeding season. Attempts to capture more juveniles on the mainland this winter were unsuccessful. The next phase of captures will focus on nestlings in Tasmania at the end of the 2010/11 breeding season.
  2.  Improving breeding output in the wild by providing more nest boxes, and additional supplementary food to wild birds. This winter, field staff and volunteers provided specially selected supplementary seed to overwintering birds in an attempt to ease their way through the winter. When birds arrive in Tasmania this spring, they will be supplied with a high quality breeding bird diet, to make sure every bird has enough energy to raise a brood of chicks.
  3. Continuing to monitor the population though important volunteer programs on the mainland and in Tasmania. It is only through quality data, collected by hundreds of volunteers over three decades, that the Recovery Team can identify the current problem and plan their response. Monitoring activities in Tasmania, King Island, Victoria and South Australia, continue to be vital to the recovery effort. In winter 2010, birds were found in the Coorong SA, near Port MacDonnell SA, near Werribee Vic, and around Swan Bay Vic. As the birds head for Tasmania, the summer monitoring program becomes the focus. The continued efforts of volunteers in these programs are vital to the recovery effort.
  4. Continuing to improve habitat quality by encouraging sound management of breeding and non-breeding habitat. An ecological burning program will be initiated near breeding sites, to ensure suitable aged feeding habitat is available. A research program in Victoria will look at the best way to manage saltmarsh for OBP habitat values.
  5. Planning for the future with the preparation of a new Recovery Plan and a Release Strategy outlining the future uses of captive-bred birds.
2011 summary
Juvenile Orange-bellied Parrots on feeding table at Melaleuca in Tasmania
Juvenile Orange-bellied Parrots on feeding table at Melaleuca in Tasmania

At least 21 adults arrived last spring at the only known wild breeding population at Melaleuca on the souh-west coast of Tasmania. The number of adults compares favourably with a minimum of 23 adults arriving the previous spring.

Encouragingly, it appears that 100% of females at Melalueca participated in breeding, an important improvement from recent years of low breeding participation. At least 16 unbanded juveniles appeared at the feed table. The minimum number of juveniles produced at Melaleuca in 2011 is therefore 27. This is an improvement over the previous breeding season when only 13 juveniles are known to have fledged.

Collection of new birds, or founders for the captive population was a priority. Over the 2010/11 summer 21 juveniles were collected at the feed table between late January and late March. The new birds will add much-needed genetic variation to the existing captive breeding program. There will be no attempts to capture founders on the mainland this winter.

The Tasmanian Parks and Wildlife Service have completed planned burns at a number of sites which will reduce the risk of large wildfires adversely affecting natural values in the southwest Tasmania, and improve Orange-bellied Parrot feeding habitat. Planned burns to maintain suitable feeding habitat has been a high priority for the recovery program for many years, and is a very high priority under the Action Plan.

The winter monitoring program remains an important measure of how the wild population of Orange-bellied Parrots is faring. Regional Coordinators and volunteers will be continuing to search habitat in South Australia and Victoria to locate overwintering birds. When Orange-bellied Parrots are located, Regional Coordinators will make arrangements to supply supplementary food to the birds, with the aim of improving their food uptake over the winter period. Supplementary feeding of birds with specially selected seed aims to improve the condition of birds to enhance over-winter survival and encourage high rates of breeding participation next summer.

It is estimated the wild population could be as low as 30 birds. The captive breeding program at Zoos Victoria now holds 75 birds. Combined with new genetic variability from this year’s juveniles taken from the wild it is hoped that the captive population can be expanded with the aim of being able to release birds back into the wild again in the future.

Overwintering record sightings of the Orange-bellied Parrot during its time on the mainland recorded 26 separate sightings of these threatened birds. While three sightings (each of two birds) were in South Australia, the other 23 sightings were all between Queenscliff and Werribee.

2011 / 2012 summary

The Orange-bellied Parrot population monitoring activities occurred between July and September 2011 and April and June 2012. Monitoring involved over 50 local volunteers, supported by a local coordinator based in the Corangamite region and winter count coordinator based centrally at BirdLife Australia, unfortunately no OBPs were located on the mainland during the July and September Winter 2012 surveys.

An honours study is examining the emerging weed threat Sicilian Sea Lavender. This weed has already invaded and excluded some saltmarsh from the Moyne River estuary and has the potential to have a major impact on OBP habitats.

2012 return of overwintering birds (report from the OBP team).

 The first OBP, an unbanded male, turned up at the feed table at Melaleuca at about 8 am on the 1st October. A banded male turned up on the 4th October and these two males were joined by a female (banded as an adult in 2011) on the 5th October. Birds continued to return and by late October several pairs had settled at nest boxes in the local area at Melaleuca. As of late November there were 12 males and 9 females at Melaleuca. Whilst this may be a low number, it does compare favourably with the minimum numbers of 21 which returned to breed in 2010/11 (13 males, 8 females) and 22 which returned to breed in 2011/12 (14 males, 8 females).

2012 /2013 summary

A summary of information provided by Sheryl Hamilton, Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Program Coordinator

The Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team have been pleased with a stability in the wild population between December 2011 and December 2012. There has also been a good start to the 2012/13 breeding season both for the wild population at Melaleuca and the captive breeding program.

No releases of captive-bred birds were undertaken in November 2012 based on field observations at the Melaleuca breeding grounds in Tasmania. It was found a similar number of birds had returned to the Melaleuca breeding grounds as were present last year and there was an equal sex ratio of adult birds in the wild.

In line with the objectives of the OBP Recovery Plan and Captive Management Plan, the parrots assigned for potential release are now contributing to the captive breeding program in the 2012/13 season.

The OBP recovery team has been working with researchers to gain an increased understanding of the Psittacine Beak and Feather Disease (PBFD) and limit any risks to both the captive and wild populations of this viral disease.

The 2012/13 wild breeding season had a good start at Melaleuca, the only known wild breeding population. At least 20 adults arrived in spring, which compares favourably with recent years (at least 22 in 2011/12, 21 in 2010/11 and 23 in 2009/10).

In January 2013, 19 chicks were banded from five nest boxes. As there were at least nine females at Melaleuca in November 2012, there may be up to four additional ‘natural’ nests in unknown locations.

The wild population at Melaleuca continues to be monitored by Wildcare volunteers and managed by DPIPWE Tasmania staff.

Captive breeding - the program has expanded to facilities at Halls Gap Zoo (Victoria) with display birds also installed at Moonlit Sanctuary (Victoria). These institutions joined Taroona, Healesville Sanctuary, Adelaide Zoo, Melbourne Zoo and Priam Parrot Breeding Centre (NSW) to increase capacity and diversify techniques to increase the population. Based on a studbook analysis conducted on 7th July, 2012, the size of the captive population was 205 birds with the program aiming to have at least 350 birds by 2016/17.

A standardised quarantine and testing protocol is being developed for all institutions involved in captive breeding.

2013 over-wintering observations. 

The 2013 coordinated surveys were conducted on 18-19 May and 27-28 July. A further survey will be held on 14-15 September. Unfortunately no Orange-bellied Parrots were recorded in the May and July surveys. Two Orange-bellied Parrots were observed a few days prior to the official count at a site near Warrnambool. Also a couple of weeks after the July count 6 Orange-bellied Parrots (two adult males, one adult female and three juveniles) were recorded at Port Phillip Bay West. The two males and two of the juveniles are thought to be the same four birds that have been sighted in the vicinity throughout the winter.

Other sightings this season include a juvenile Orange-bellied Parrot at West Gippsland and a possible sighting on the Fleurieu Peninsula (South Australia).

Volunteers put in an enormous amount of effort during the counts, e.g. over 720 volunteer hours were spent during the Bellarine Peninsula counts in 2012. This demonstrates the commitment of many people in our community who care about the Orange-bellied Parrot and contribute towards its conservation.

2013 / 2014 summary

A summary of information provided by Sheryl Hamilton, Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Program Coordinator

 The Orange-bellied Parrot National Recovery Team held its annual meeting on 30th April 2014 in Hobart to review the status of wild and captive bred Orange-bellied Parrots and to formulate ongoing conservation measures. By the end of the 2013/14 breeding season the wild population of Orange-bellied Parrots is considered to comprises approx. 70 birds. 

The Orange-bellied Parrot National Recovery Team has been encouraged by:

  •  the initial indications that a release of captive-bred adults into the wild population in November 2013 has been successful with some captive-bred birds known to have successfully bred;
  • the production of at least 39 chicks in the 2013/14 breeding season at Melaleuca;
  • to date, the successful post-breeding migration of at least one captive-bred bird from Tasmania to the mainland coast; and
  • a steadily increasing captive breeding population. 

Breeding season - there was a good start to the  2013/14 breeding season at  Melaleuca (southwest Tasmania) which is the only known wild breeding population. At least 19 adults arrived in spring following their migration from the mainland, this being a similar number of adults to the last two seasons.

In line with the recovery plan and translocation proposal 24 captive-bred Orange-bellied Parrots adults (13 males and 11 females) were released to join in with the wild population at  Melaleuca in November 2013.

Monitoring of the released and wild birds at Melaleuca was made possible by Zoos Victoria, Friends of the Orange-bellied Parrot (Wildcare Inc.) and volunteers.

In January and February 2014, the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment staff and Australian National University scientists banded 36 chicks from the purpose-built nest boxes provided for birds at Melaleuca. At least 3 more chicks fledged from nests in natural hollows. Therefore, there was increase in the number of fledgling OBPs produced at Melaleuca from 24 in 2013 (when there was no release of captive-bred birds) to 39 in 2014 (following the November 2013 release).

Captive breeding - The OBP captive population acts as an insurance population as well as providing birds for release to the wild to bolster the wild population and improve genetic diversity The captive breeding program includes the following institutions: DPIPWE’s Taroona facilities (Tasmania), Healesville Sanctuary (Victoria), Melbourne Zoo (Victoria), Priam Parrot Breeding Centre (NSW), Halls Gap Zoo (Victoria) and Moonlit Sanctuary (Victoria). Small numbers of non-breeding birds are also held at Adelaide Zoo, Taronga Zoo, Australian Reptile Park and Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary.

Following a successful breeding season, the size of the captive population in April 2014 was about 320 birds. This is well on the way to the recovery program target of 400 for the insurance captive population.

2014 over-wintering observations ( to May 2014) -  These are observations of Orange-bellied Parrots which have flown from Tasmania, across Bass Strait to over winter on mainland Australia. The first confirmed sighting was on 25th March 2014 on the. In April other sightings were made on the Bellarine Peninsula, the Bass Coast, Surf Coast, again on the  western side of Port Phillip Bay. In May there were more sightings on the  western side of Port Phillip Bay.

One of the sightings on the Surf Coast included a captive-bred adult female bird hatched in captivity in the 2011/12 breeding season at the Taroona captive breeding facility and  released at Melaleuca in November 2013. During the 2013 /14 breeding season at Melaleuca, she produced five ‘wild’ chicks and has now made the over winter journey across Bass Strait.

Volunteers continue to play an important part during the over winter counts in building up our knowledge of habitat use, flocking and feeding behaviour.  In particular, information on banded OBPs will be important in determining whether any released birds and their offspring have made the northern migration. 

2015/16 Summary

Wild breeding - Twenty three Orange-bellied Parrots returned for the 2015-16 breeding season  at  Melaleuca (southwest Tasmania) which is the only known wild breeding population. The season produced 18 fledglings. 

Captive breeding - The overall captive population is around 350 birds. Captive breeding focuses on maintaining genetic diversity and the capacity to provide birds for translocation into the wild. It also provides an insurance population.

The population was supplemented with the release 13 captive-bred adults at Melaleuca in November 2015 from the Taroona breeding facility. 

Further releases totalling 24 birds were carried out at Melaleuca in November 2016 to produce a balanced sex ratio in the population.

2015 over-wintering observations -  These are observations of Orange-bellied Parrots which have flown from Tasmania, across Bass Strait to over winter on mainland Australia. A significant amount of observation effort was carried out by volunteers across known areas in southern Victoria and south-east South Australia. Only 4 Orange-bellied Parrots were observed over the 2015 winter period, all being at Werribee.

2016 over-wintering observations - survey were held on the mainland in Victoria and south-east South Australia on 21/22 May, 23/24 July and 10/11 September 2016. Overall results found up to 7-10 birds had migrated across Bass Strait to overwinter in Victoria (It is not clear if 3 unidentified birds spotted in May were the same ones seen in August). Given the vast area to be surveyed it is highly unlikely that all the birds which flew from Tasmania to the mainland would ever be identified.

Information on volunteering for the 2016 winter surveys - BirdLife Australia

A more detailed report on the 2015/16 season - Birdlife OBP Recovery Summary

2016 Migration back to Tasmania - By the end of November 2016, 15 birds were recorded to have completed their migration from mainland Australia back to the breeding area at Melaleuca in Tasmania. One of the Orange Bellied Parrots was a captive-bred bird that hatched at Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (DPIPWE) Hobart Wildlife Centre on 5/12/13.  Her parents were also captive-bred at the Hobart Wildlife Centre.  Whilst at the Hobart Wildlife Centre she had a single clutch of five young in late November/early December 2014.  She was released at Melaleuca the following year on 4/11/15.  Upon release at Melaleuca, she paired up and they produced three fledglings.  Her flight from Tasmania to overwinter on mainland Australia and return back to Tasmania is significant considering her captive bred ancestry.


2017 Summary

2017 breeding in Tasmania

A total of 17 Orange-bellied Parrots (12 males and 4 females, including 1 captive-bred female migrated back across Bass Strait from the mainland to the breeding grounds at Melaleuca in Tasmania this breeding season. This meant there was only a maximum of four breeding pairs of wild birds. In order to maximise breeding opportunities 23 captive-bred birds were also released at the breeding grounds (8 males and 15 females).

By January 2017, 15 Orange-bellied Parrot nests were detected in the nest boxes. At least 8 active nests were parented by captive-bred females. There were at least 4 failed nests and 5 nests were holding nestlings.

Because the survival of this species is in such a perilous state the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team is introducing some new management techniques.

Summary of proposed management for 2017 (OBP Recovery Team 2016)

Survival and reproductive success of wild birds - maximise adult survival and reproductive success, so as many wild born birds as possible are able to migrate naturally this autumn. 

Assisted / aided migration trial of captive bred birds - males transported and released into suitable wild habitat in Victoria for overwintering. Females transported to a captive institution on the mainland for ‘ranching/holding’ before re-release at Melaleuca next breeding season. The Recovery Team hopes that aiding migration and ranching/holding will improve winter survival and migration success (for the assisted/aided migration group) of these birds. 

Release of 10 or more juvenile captive bred birds -these will be released at breeding grounds  in Tasmania during late summer 2017

Release of ten or more adult captive bred males - these releases will be at a mainland overwintering site/s.

Release of captive-bred adults at Melaleuca in spring 2017 - this is part of on-going management to balance the sex ratio and increase breeding potential.

Aided migration

The Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team has embarked on a 4-year Mainland Release Trial Program which involves the release of small flocks of OBPs into suitable habitat. The team hopes that these flocks not only provide advantages for the birds being released but also to act as a beacon to naturally migrating birds, to draw them into suitable habitat. 

On April 19th the team released 11 Orange-bellied Parrots in a restricted area at the Western Treatment Plant (WTP) in Werribee. The release group includes 6 birds from Healesville Sanctuary, 4 birds from Moonlit Sanctuary, and the first bird to be part of a new ‘aided migration’ trial for the species. The team attached radio transmitters to each of the release birds, and will be closely following their movements over the coming weeks

The Western Treatment Plant site was selected as it has been the most reliable location for wild OBPs in Victoria in recent years. The WTP therefore provides the best opportunity for our release group to interact with, and learn from, wild birds with local knowledge.

Partners in the Mainland Release Trial Program in Victoria are; the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP), Zoos Victoria, BirdLife Australia, Melbourne Water, Moonlit Sanctuary, Parks Victoria and the Tasmanian Government. 

The program has received funding from the Victorian Government Biodiversity On-ground Actions program and Zoos Victoria.

The Recovery Team requests that anyone permitted to visit the birdwatching areas of the WTP please respect the need to give these birds the space they need to behave naturally. This trial is part of a suite of actions seeking to prevent extinction in the wild for this beautiful and unusual bird, and we want to give the birds every chance of success.

Update 4 May 2017

Two weeks since the release of 11 Orange-bellied Parrots at the Western Treatment Plant most have remained within 500 metres of the release site but some have been detected up to 2 km away. All the released birds are fitted with transmitters to aid in detection.

The good news for this project is the fact that the released birds are starting to form loose flocks and now accompanied by a wild female who has visited this site every winter since 2013.

Full report Update #2 pdf

Update 8 May

In addition to the wild female sighted in the release area 2 wild juvenile birds have also been sighted in the area. This provides great potential for a flock of OBPs of mixed origins, exactly what the Mainland Release Team were hoping for.  

About the two wild juvenile birds: One of these birds, Matilda, is the first captive OBP chick to be successfully fostered at a wild nest, thanks to the work of the Tasmanian Orange-bellied Parrot Program and the Australian National University's Operation OBP project. The other is the young of a pair of adults that were released at the breeding site last spring.

Juvenile OBP at WTP May 2017
Two wild juvenile Orange-bellied Parrots sighted near released birds at Western Treatment Plant on 8 May. Image: Steve Davidson, BirdLife Australia
Update 18 May

A loose flock of eight Orange-bellied Parrots has formed in the area around the release site.  Monitoring is continuing with radio tracking the birds 3 - 4 times a week, recording information on habitat choice, food plant selection, and social groupings. The birds have been observed feeding on at least seven species of wild food plant, including Glaucous Goosefoot and Austral Seablite. Supplementary feeding has stopped because the birds are feeding on the plentiful supply of wild food.

Full report Upadte #4 pdf

Update 2 August 2017

The captive-bred Orange-bellied Parrots that were released at Werribee in April are still doing well, as are the wild birds that they have flocked with. They're exploring the release site (the Western Treatment Plant) more, as their early winter foods finish seeding and they move onto other plant species. Transmitter batteries are running low so the team is undertaking visual observations on the flock and waiting to see if the captive bred birds migrate to Tasmania with the wild birds.

Orange-bellied Parrots released at Werribee Paul Rushworth, Zoos Victoria
Two of the released males. Image: Paul Rushworth, Zoos Victoria from Mainland release report, October 2017.
Update 31 October 2017

Summary of intensive monitoring at Western Treatment Plant Werribee since the releases of 11 captive bred birds in April 2017 by DELWP and Zoos Victoria led Orange-bellied Parrot Mainland Release Trial program;

  • High survivorship of the release birds (73% known to be alive 2 months after release).
  • A stable flock of greater than 10 birds were established at or near the release site.
  • This flock was made up of a mix of release birds and older wild adults previously familiar with
  • the habitat at the release site.
  • Naturally migrating juveniles new to the area also joined the established flock.
  • By early October birds had begun dispersing and migrating back to their breeding grounds in Tasmania.

Full report - Mainland releases October 2017 pdf

The OBP Mainland Release Trial is being delivered by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Zoos Victoria, BirdLife Australia, Melbourne Water, Moonlit Sanctuary, Parks Victoria and the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and the Environment.

Update 17 November 2017
Orange-bellied Parrot at Melaleuca prior to 2017 migration

By mid-November a total of 15 Orange-bellied Parrots (13 males, 2 females) have completed their migration across Bass Strait to breeding grounds at Melaleuca, Tasmania. The Natural Values Conservation Branch, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment (PIPWE) Tasmania also released 23 Orange-bellied Parrots (more females than males to balance up opportunities for breeding partners), of these, 7 females were previously released at Melaleuca in spring 2016, recaptured after the breeding season and 'ranched' at Werribee Zoo for autumn and winter. These birds have now been re-released at Melaleuca for a second wild breeding season.

This image of Red Red K (named because of the red leg bands) was taken at a supplementary feed monitoring table on February 10, 2017 prior to his departure from Melaleuca earlier this year.  Red Red K is a first year wild born male OBP. Hatched in the 2016-17 breeding season, Red Red K’s parents were both captive release OBPs. Last detected at Melaleuca on 27 March 2017, the return marks Red Red K’s first complete Melaleuca-Mainland-Melaleuca migration. Source: Orange-bellied Parrot Program, DPIPWE, Tasmania.

Update 8 December 2017

Earlier this week a third female OBP arrived at Melaleuca - taking total returns this year to 16 (13 males, 3 females). The breeding season at Melaleuca is looking good, at present there are 12 nests containing eggs. 


Updates 2018

Update February 2018
Orange-bellied Parrot at WTP February 2018
One of the captive bred Orange-bellied Parrots released in April 2017
observed in February 2018 Source: DELWP.

In February 2018 project team members and volunteers searched suitable habitats throughout the Western Treatment Plant (Werribee) and surrounding areas. Two of the 11 captive bred birds released in April 2017 were observed in the area. No other wild or released birds were detected. It is unknown if any of these released birds migrated to Tasmania or dispersed to other areas. Further releases will be carried out during the autumn migration season.

Update April 2018

New releases of captive bred Orange-bellied Parrots were undertaken on 16 & 17 April 2018.

7 Orange-bellied Parrots released at the Spit Nature Conservation Reserve near Point Wilson and a further 8 birds released at the Western Treatment Plant. The releases were undertaken as part of efforts to establish a flock in the area, also attracting wild Orange-bellied Parrots migrating from Tasmania. Monitoring of released birds and any arrivals from Tasmania will include radio tracking, camera monitoring and observations.

News stories:

ABC news story. Orange-bellied Parrot releases April 2018.

Update May 2018

A captive-bred juvenile Orange-bellied Parrot released at Melaleuca in February 2018 was observed on the Bellarine Peninsula during survey in May. The male captive-bred juvenile was in company with two other males (a wild adult and a wild juvenile).

This is the first confirmation of a captive-bred released juvenile successfully completing their northern migration to the mainland is an important milestone in the DPIPWE Orange-bellied Parrot Tasmanian Program juvenile release project.

The objective of the juvenile release project is to determine whether OBPs released at a young age have higher migration success than those released as adults, and thus, make a stronger contribution to population growth.  A total of 15 captive-bred juveniles from Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park and Zoos Victoria’s Healesville Sanctuary were released at Melaleuca and observed flocking with wild OBPs prior to the migration season.

Update 1 August 2018

The Orange-bellied Parrot team at Werribee's Western Treatment Plant have been getting regular sittings of birds released back in April 2018. It has been noted that some of the birds are beginning their mid-winter moult. Orange-bellied Parrots typically moult in mid-winter, replacing worn feathers with new ones prior to the southern migration in spring.

2018/19 breeding season summary

Southward summer/breeding migration to Tasmania

Wild migration

A total of 20 Orange-bellied parrots migrated from mainland Australia to Tasmania for the breeding season at Melaleuca (13 males, 6 females and one of unknown gender). The first arrival occurred on 22 September 2018 with the majority of arrivals mid to late October, the last record being 1 November 2018.

Assisted migration

The release of 14 Orange-bellied Parrots (assisted migration birds) which were transported by plane from the mainland to Tasmania contributed to the breeding season. The 14 birds were caught in Tasmania prior to the overwintering migration and transported to Victoria where they were housed at the Moonlit Wildlife Sanctuary for the overwintering period then transported back to the summer breeding grounds for the 2018/19 breeding season.

Captive bred releases - Tasmania

During November 2018, a staged release of 44 captive bred Orange-bellied Parrots was carried out in the vicinity of Melaleuca, Tasmania. These birds are part of the captive breeding program at the Hobart breeding facility, Zoos Victoria - Healesville Sanctuary and Moonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation Park.

An additional 12 captive bred juveniles were released at Melaleuca during February 2019.

Wild breeding 2018/19 - Tasmania

Total number of 36 wild fledglings adding to the wild population.

Captive breeding

Approximately 200 captive born fledglings were produced across all the captive breeding program centres.

2019 Overwintering Victoria
Orange-bellied Parrot Clive Kaplan 2019

One of the 3 male Orange-bellied Parrots from the 2018 release that remained in the Western Treatment Plant area over summer.


Releases - Victoria

Releases of 23 captive bred Orange-bellied Parrots to the overwintering rounds near Werribee commenced on 16 April 2019.  The releases spaned several days, 7 birds were released at the Spit Nature Conservation Reserve, 8 birds at the Western Treatment and 8 birds at the Avalon Coastal Reserve.   Most of the released birds are wearing radio-transmitters. These areas will be monitored by the OBP team. Any sightings are of use so please report to contacts below.

Orange-bellied Parrot Brian Aherne
One of the 2019 captive bred Orange-bellied Parrots released into the wild. Image: Brian Aherne


Wild migration to Victoria

At least 2 wild bred birds have migrated to Victoria 

Sliver Silver C is a wild born, juvenile female, she was sighted with the flock of released birds near The Spit Nature Conservation Reserve in June 2019.

Blue Orange C ia a wild adult male, he was sighted at the Western Treatment Plant in May 2019.

Mainland Release Trial Program Update 2019 pdf - Report from DELWP



2019/20 season summary

Adapted from the Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Program News, April 2020

Southward summer/breeding migration to Tasmania

Wild migration

During late November 2019 a first year wild Orange-bellied Parrot 'Silver Silver C' was recorded at Melaleuca Tasmania marking the completion of her first round trip migration from Tasmania to Victoria and return to Tasmania for the breeding season. This bird arrived on the mainland in June 2019, as a juvenile, and over-wintered with a flock of captive released birds established at North Spit in Victoria. Hopefully her return back to Tasmania for the breeding season will contribute to the survival of the species in the wild.

Orange-bellied Parrot update November 2019
A first year wild Orange-bellied Parrot 'Silver Silver C' completed her first round trip migration from Tasmania to Victoria and return to Tasmania for the breeding season. Image: provided by DELWP.


Captive bred releases – Tasmania

49 captive-bred juveniles originating from the DPIPWE, Moonlit Sanctuary (MS) and Zoos Victoria (ZV) breeding facilities were released at Melaleuca. This brought the number of juveniles at Melaleuca close to historic sightings of 100 juveniles in late summer.

Captive breeding

200 fledglings were produced among the five captive breeding facilities over the summer.

Breeding 2019/20 – Tasmania

Both wild and captive Orange-bellied Parrots had a very productive breeding season over 2019/20 summer.

DPIPWE recorded 20 OBP nests this season, attended by both wild- and captive-bred parents, including those that were released after being ranched or head-started (i.e., temporarily held in captivity to increase annual survival) over previous winters. These nesting attempts produced at least 37 fledglings that had the highest body condition recorded since 2013.

2020 Overwintering Victoria

The Recovery Team expects more than 100 wild and released OBPs will be migrating north from Melaleuca, Tasmania to mainland Australia this year which is the largest number in over a decade.

Volunteer-based winter surveys for 2020, have been cancelled until further notice due to COVID-19 restrictions.

In late April 2020, releases of 26 Orange-bellied Parrots were made at The Spit Nature Conservation Reserve, a location used in 2019, and from a new site located in North Western Port Bay. The released birds were a combination of captive bred birds and assisted migration birds.

Moonlit Sanctuary held the birds at Western Port Bay in their on-site aviary for seven weeks (as opposed to the usual one week for other mainland releases) to allow for pre-release recall training.

Orange-bellied Parrot with satellite tag Image:Paul Rushworth
Satellite transmitter fitted to Oronage-bellied Parrot. Image: Paul Rushworth.

Most of the released birds were fitted with radio transmitters attached to the base of their two central tail feathers. As part of a new remote monitoring trial, two birds at each site were instead fitted with solar-powered satellite transmitters.

Full report week 2 update

OBP released birds Image: Paul Rushworth

The trial releases are aiming to establish flocks of released parrots in suitable habitats in Victoria, to attract migrating birds to these sites, and provide those migrants with a better chance of surviving the autumn and winter. Image: Paul Rushworth.


Orange-bellied Parrots feeding Image: Paul Rushworth

Birds from The Spit release site feeding in Austral Seablight. Image: Paul Rushworth, OBP Update week 4.


Wild migration from Tasmania to Victoria

From mid-May to early June observers noted the arrival of four OBP’s from the breeding site in Tasmania:

  • An adult female returning for her second winter at the site; (the 2019 release birds would be known to her).
  • A juvenile female who has arrived for her first winter. This female was captive-bred in Tasmania and released at the breeding site in south west Tasmania in February.
  • A juvenile male who has also arrived for his first winter. He is a wild born bird.
  • A male captive-bred juvenile released into the wild at Tasmania’s breeding site in February 2020.

Full report week 4 update - 22 May 2020


OBP Captive bred migrant to Vic. Image: DELWP

Orange-bellied Parrot with leg bands Blue N Yellow is a captive-bred juvenile released into the wild at Tasmania’s breeding site in February 2020. He completed his first migration, flying all the way from south-west Tasmania to Victoria in early June 2020.

Source: DELWP BarwonSouthWest


In mid-June, 2 OBP’s were observed at Princetown, in South West Victoria. This is the first sighting of migrating OBP’s in the area for several years. One bird had leg bands (gold/yellow) confirming it was a 2020 juvenile release at Melaleuca, Tasmania. The other bird had no leg bands which could indicate it was a wild born bird. More details: Nature Glenelg Trust.

2020/2021 season 

Source: Adapted from OBP Newsletters – December 2020  & April 2021

Southward summer/breeding migration to Tasmania

Wild migration

The 2020 migration from mainland Australia back to Tasmanian is largest number of wild Orange-bellied Parrots to have returned to Melaleuca in Tasmania for the breeding season in over a decade.

A total of 51 Orange-bellied Parrots (24 males and 27 females) were recorded to have migrated from mainland Australia back to breeding areas at Melaleuca in Tasmania. The birds include:

  • 10 older wild-bred birds that have returned in previous years
  • 15 young wild-bred birds making their first full migration
  • 5 wild-bred birds that were held in captivity over their first winter and released in 2019
  • 3 captive-bred birds released as adults in 2019
  • 18 captive-bred birds released as juveniles at the end of the breeding season in either 2019 (3) or 2020 (15).
Captive breeding program

Breeding in the captive population produced 50 juvenile OBPs for release this season and maintained about 250 pairs in the breeding population for next season.  Overall, the captive population is estimated to be in excess of 500 Orange-bellied Parrots across 6 sites; Adelaide Zoo,  DPIPWE’s Five Mile Beach facility, Moonlit Sanctuary, Zoos Victoria (Healesville Sanctuary, Werribee Open Range Zoo) and Priam Psittaculture Centre.

Captive bred releases
Breeding 2020/21 – Tasmania

The breeding population comprised  at least 76 OBPs (38 males and 38 females) which is the highest number in recent years.

Monitoring found 31 nest attempts and 88 fledglings, which are 65% and 127% increases on the last breeding season, respectively. Also there was the first recorded breeding range expansion since monitoring commenced in the early 1980.

    Northward migration

    DPIPWE, Tasmania estimated that 185 OBPs will migrate north from Melaleuca in 2021 to winter in costal Victoria (and perhaps south eastern South Australia), which is a 57% increase on the number leaving last autumn.

    Full reports:

    Mainland overwintering

    The first recorded arrivals from Tasmania occurred on 1 April 2021 at the Spit/Western Treatment Plant which is the same area as releases were made earlier in the year. This indicates the strategy of attracting migrating birds to the area could be working.  The arrivals include a female which had made the same migration last year, a male bird released at the same location last year, a female wild migrant and a wild born juvenile male.  

    Orange-bellied Parrot BlueDYellow Image: Steve Davidson, Birdlife

    A successful migration across Bass Strait for a female Orange-bellied Parrot (leg bands BlueDYellow). Image courtesy: Steve Davidson, Birdlife


    Orange-bellied Parrot after successful migration across Bass Strait Image courtesy: Steve Davidson, Birdlife
    A female Orange-bellied Parrot (leg bands Silver Silver C,) a wild migrant whom has returned for her fourth winter on the mainland, (possibly BlueDYellow in the foreground). Image courtesy: Steve Davidson, Birdlife


    By mid-June, observers located five natural migrants and 3 released birds at the Spit NCR. At Lake Connewarre, 4 natural migrants and 7 released birds have been detected. At the North Western Port Bay site, the transmitter receiver station detected 2 natural migrants and 6 released birds.

    In addition, 2 Orange-bellied Parrots were confirmed to have migrated across Bass Strait to the Coorong National Park in South Australia. This is the first time in 8 years that such a migration has been observed.


    2021 Reports

    OBPRT Newsletter April 2021

    Captive bred releases update April 2021 Week 2 update

    Captive bred release update May 2021 Week 4 update

    Captive bred release update mid-June 2021

    OBPRT Newsletter June 2021

    Research Paper: Identifying cost-effective recovery actions for a critically endangered species, Rachel A. Pritchard, Ella L. Kelly, James R. Biggs, Annika N. Everaardt, Richard Loyn, Michael J. L. Magrath, Peter Menkhorst, Carolyn J. Hogg, William L. Geary, 18 November 2021, The Society for Conservation Biology, Conservation Science and Practice journal. Open Access.


    2021/2022 season 

    Source: Adapted from  Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Program Coordinator, November 2021 & May 2022

    Southward summer/breeding migration to Tasmania

    Wild migration

    The 2021 migration from mainland Australia back to the Tasmanian breeding area at Melaleuca is well underway. The migration commenced in early October 2021, with the bulk of the migration occurring mid-November.   As at 25  November 2021, 58 Orange-bellied Parrots have successfully migrated across Bass Strait, comprising:

    • 31 Females and  27 Males.
    • 39 are wild born birds
    • 19 captive bred birds
    • 29 are 1st year birds with 29 being 2nd year birds or older

    Further arrivals are expected up to mid-December.


    Captive bred releases

    Three separate releases comprising a total of 24 captive bred OBP’s were carried out at Melaleuca during November 2021 to coincide with the return of migrating birds which will assist in building a viable breeding population.

    In late summer 2022, 50 captive-bred juveniles were released into the Melaleuca population to increase the size of the migrating flock.

    Breeding 2020/21 – Tasmania

    The breeding population comprised at least 70 adult OBPs (34 males and 36 females) which returned to Melaleuca from the Australian mainland. This was the highest adult population size in at least 15 years, however there were fewer nests with number of birds remaining throughout the breeding season being lower than previous years. The reason for around half of the breeding population leaving the known breeding area early is under investigation.

    Monitoring found 18 nesting attempts resulting in 60 fledglings. Despite the low number of nests, this was the second highest number of fledglings produced at Melaleuca since 2004. Additionally, the average number of fledglings per nest, at 3.33, was the highest in over a decade.

    Full report May 2022 pdf

    Northward migration (Tasmania to southern mainland Australia)

    The recovery team estimates that approximately 140 OBPs would have migrated from Melaleuca at the end of the 2021-22 breeding season, comprising 41 returned and released adults, 50 released juveniles, and up to 60 wild-born juveniles.

    Mainland overwintering

    OBP Winter Surveys are being conducted this year. If you want to get involved, see BirdLife Australia OBP Winter Surveys 




    DELWP and Zoos Victoria are leading the Orange-bellied Parrot Mainland Release Trial, with the support of BirdLife AustraliaMoonlit Sanctuary Wildlife Conservation ParkMelbourne WaterParks Victoria and the Tasmanian Government's Orange-bellied Parrot Tasmanian Program.

    Report any sightings

    Sightings can be reported to Kristy Penrose (Zoos Victoria) or Steve Davidson (Birdlife Australia).

    More detailed contacts:

    DELWP Barwon SouthWest Facebook 


    References & Links

    • Orange-bellied Parrot
      Vegetation survey and remote sensing of Victorian saltmarshes in relation to Orange-bellied Parrot (Neophema chrysogaster) habitat. A report prepared for Department of Conservation & Natural resources, March 1994. A. McMahon, G. Race, G. Carr, Ecology Australia Pty Ltd.
    • Management of the Orange-bellied Parrot. Peter W. Menkhorst., Richard W. Loyn., Peter B. Brown. In: Management and Conservation of Small Populations, pp.239-252. Ed. Tim W. Clark and John H. Seebeck (1990). Chicago Zoological Society, Chicago.
    • Field Guide to birds of Australia. Simpson & Day, 6th edition, published by the Penguin Group, Camberwell, Victoria.
    • Orange-bellied Parrot Action Statement No. 43, Flora & Fauna Guarantee, Dept. Natural Resources & Environment, Victoria 1993.
    • (OBP Recovery Team 2016) Communique from the National Orange-bellied Parrot Recovery Team on workshop held in Hobart, 14th to 15th December 2016.
    • White, M., Menkhorst, P., Griffioen, Green, B., Salkin, O. and Pritchard, R. (2016).
    • (VVB 2020) Visualising Victoria's Biodiversity 
    • Orange-bellied Parrot: A retrospective analysis of winter habitat availability, 1985-2015. Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research Technical Report Series Number 277. Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, Heidelberg, Victoria.


    Orange-bellied Parrot Biodiversity Art by Jane Burns
    By a thread – Orange-bellied Parrot II, 2019  Artist: Jane Burns 

    Water-based, non-toxic, solvent free pigment ink on linen fabric, linen thread, stainless steel. 113 x 80 x 8.5 cm.  By Jane Burns

    This art work depicts the precarious state of the Orange-bellied Parrot. Will this critically endangered species continue to disappear?


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